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Northern Territory

Jun 19, 2017

‘You don’t know what a First World economy is’: NT judge rants at 13-year-old

The judge seemed uninterested in the “extremely difficult set of circumstances” the boy was facing.

In January this year, a 13-year-old boy’s mother was killed following a horrendous and sustained assault. His father has been charged with his mother’s murder, and that matter has yet to proceed to a trial.

On June 6, 2017, the child appeared before Judge Greg Borchers in the Tennant Creek Youth Court, entering a guilty plea to damaging a government car, the doorway of the local bank and damage to a restaurant committed over two days in late May 2017. The child had more that $3800 in outstanding fines from previous offences and was under a good behaviour bond imposed in March 2017.

The Northern Myth has been provided with a transcript of proceedings in the matter and, apart from brief comments from elsewhere below, I provide the following excerpts without comment as the matter is still before the courts. While under NT law it is permissable to name the juvenile offender, I have chosen not to do so at this time.

Following the presentation of relevant facts by the NT Police prosecutor, the child’s solicitor, Dev Bhutani of the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS), began his submissions, noting the child’s age, prior offending and the “extremely difficult set of circumstances” that he was facing. He noted that his offending behaviour at multiple premises in front of CCTV cameras was “not only juvenile, but rather brazen”.

Borchers interrupted by suggesting that the offending was “extremely serious” — a point that Dev Bhutani demurred to. Following submissions from Bhutani that the “overall loss wasn’t that great”, the following exchange occurred between Borchers, police prosecutor Sergeant Lyons and Bhutani.

“Mr Lyons: The last time that Middle Earth [the restaurant] got their doors broken it was over $3000.

His Honour: Yes. Yes. Client coming up with the money, is he, Mr Bhutani?

Mr Bhutani: No, your Honour, as you’ve heard he already has a considerable amount of outstanding —

His Honour: Family going to pay the money, are they, Mr Bhutani?

Mr Bhutani: Not that I know of.

His Honour: Who is going to pay the money, Mr Bhutani?

Mr Bhutani: Your Honour, it’s a difficult situation. Unfortunately — — —

His Honour: No. No. Tell me, who do you think might pay the money, Mr Bhutani?

Mr Bhutani: It will unfortunately fall upon the ratepayers — the insurance payers here, the residents in Tennant Creek.

His Honour: Yes. Exactly.”

Then followed an exchange between bench and bar about the child’s prior offending and court appearances and his attendance at school and whether anyone was providing parental control over the child, particularly around the time of the offending in May. Bhutani sought to put the offending in context.

“Mr Bhutani: If I might contextualise, the last few months in Mr xxxxx’s life, your Honour, now your Honour’s probably aware of a death that took place in the Tennant Creek community that’s now really being investigated as a murder. That is xxxxx’s mother and the primary suspect at this stage is his father, who is currently serving a significant time on remand at the Alice Springs Correctional Centre, being investigated for the death of his partner and ….’s mother.

Now that, your Honour, by all accounts, by all service providers here in the courtroom today, which I’m happy to call as well, has obviously taken a very significant toll on Mr xxxxx. But, I think it’s really well reflected —

His Honour: Well, call them. I’d like to know how they relate that to breaking into people’s property including that (sic). Call one of them, anyone you like and get that person to tell me how grief results in breaking into banks.”

Bhutani continued his submissions.

“Mr Bhutani: If I might first, you Honour, tender — and I might finish my point, tendering the school attendance records from a period prior to April and a period later on … It really shows a very remarkable noticeable difference in attendance, 79 per cent down to 26 per cent. And, this is at a time after he’s lost his mother.

But, by all accounts, your Honour, that ongoing alcohol misuse and other issues in the family have really resulted in ….. being of quite low mood, suffering social anxiety. I’ve also got notes that he struggles to make and maintain long term friendships and really does take solace in the company of his two younger sisters, your Honour.

His Honour: Sorry, say that again.

Mr Bhutani: That he really takes solace in the company of his two younger sisters.

His Honour: How old are they?

Mr Bhutani: Seven and eight?

His Honour: So, why wasn’t he with them at night?

Mr Bhutani: Sorry, 12 and 13 – – –

His Honour: Okay. So, if he’s so concerned about them, why is he out on the streets at 5am?

Mr Bhutani: They were residing at Ali Kurung (sic) at that time , your Honour

Then followed discussion about the child’s appointment — in mid-June 2017 — with the Alice Springs-based clinical psychologist and his difficulty engaging with the Tennant Creek-based Youth Mental Health team, his school attendance record and submissions on how the matter might proceed …

*Read the rest at Crikey blog Northern Myth

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17 comments

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17 thoughts on “‘You don’t know what a First World economy is’: NT judge rants at 13-year-old

  1. Peter Wileman

    Having been in the same situation as the owners of Middle Earth, they have my sympathy. The young boy is out of control due to horrible circumstances, but that does not ameliorate the suffering of the victim of the crime for which he is charged, not only the financial loss but the continuing stress of having to live with the possibility that it will happen again tonight or tomorrow night. – and the question remains, who is the victim? Sure the boy has had a horrible start to his life, but there are agencies and organisations that presumably work hard at trying to help him overcome his problems. In a micro-business, you are on your own, you are ‘obviously wealthy’ because you have your own business, and everyone has their hands in your wallet from the government down. When does accountability for your actions begin? What else can the judge do to protect society and hopefully reform the boy. Society needs protection too.

    1. Zeke

      Where does accountability for your actions begin? When you reach adulthood

      Your heart bleeds for a shopkeeper who had a door damaged, but you don’t give a fig about a boy whose father probably murdered his mother.

      It just goes to show what a society we live in.

      It makes me ashamed to be Australian, or to be associated with comments such as yours and the comments of the NT Judge.

      1. old greybearded one

        I know plenty of Aboriginal people who grew up in dirt floor shanties, no social security, no money for going to school, no vote. Didn’t go round smashing stuff. i see this all the time in my home town now. Becasue, no body does anything except say “tut tut” the first 10 times. For heaven’s sake the teen junkies get the ten year olds to beak in for them. Thenat 18 we lock them up. Bullshit I say. Tribal would have dealt quite severely with them. A lot of the old men I know black and white had adult responsibility at 14.

    2. rlynch01@bigpond.com

      It is evident that the NT Govt. should set up an Insurance Scheme to reimburse damage causes by random resourceless people who cannot offer labour or other reimbursement. It has been evident for a long time. And don’t tell me this property was not insured?

  2. Charmaine Tunn

    I think the last comment misses the point. The savage callousness of this judge is appalling. Talking about how he, a 13 year old, is going to pay fines is ludicrous. His family probably/obviously can’t afford them either. So this boy goes into juvenile detention and turns into another Dylan Voller: no rehabilitation, simply more abuse by unqualified ‘prison’ guards. Sure the community is protected, but only in the short term. This kid will learn about crime in ‘juvie’ than anywhere else.

  3. Woopwoop

    Oh dear. It’s hard to know where to start to break this sorry cycle. Any suggestions?

    1. Marion Wilson

      Wouldn’t the shopkeeper have insurance to cover damage to his premises? These children are in urgent need of help and protection or their entire futures will be destroyed – the shopkeeper can get his door fixed any time but this child’s hope for a future is at a critical stage. Ask the local Chamber of Commerce to have a collection at their next meeting, the RSL, Boy Scouts, Rotary, Lions Club and local religions,CWA, to pay for the door it it’s so important that the owner can’t contribute but get your priorities right get help for all these children. Their need is urgent.

      1. Woopwoop

        I agree these children need urgent help, but the question is, what form should this help take?

        1. rlynch01@bigpond.com

          Reconstruct the judiciary, and laws that prevent them from addressing not only property damage, but also the rights of the child: to shelter, nourishment, education, support, shelter and culture. The lad has his mum killed, his dad in jail 300 miles away, 2 young sisters, and he is out raging at unsociable hours. Who looked at these 3 kids and said their supports were adequate: why were they wrong. Gee, Mr. Borchers, if it’s too complex for you, take up another branch of law. Maybe we need a Human Rights Act to save us from Magistrates and Judges like you, to save the children.

  4. AR

    As Abbottrocious sez, “lifestyle choices”.
    I agree with OGO that poverty and a tough start in childhood don’t cause these problems.
    More to the point, how will this, and similar stories, ever end well?

    1. Marion Wilson

      This child is too young to make rational lifestyle choices. It is a fact that persons under the age of 25 do not have fully developed brain function – particularly males. That is why under 25s have to pay higher motor vehicle insurance. The insurance industry has investigated this very thoroughly! Under 24s are not making lifestyle choices, they are reacting to their environment, frequently in ways that society considers to be irrational. They need help, protection and understanding not condemnation

  5. Dan Dair

    The difficulty is, as always, providing the help which the Aboriginal communities need, without expecting a short-term payoff & without being seen as either pandering-to or interfering-with their communities.?

    Surely there could be youth development funding which could be accessed or diverted to ensure that wayward boys & young men can be mentored by their own community, perhaps under the overall supervision of Government officials, so that they can be taught by ‘their-own’ ‘wise-heads’ to identify, deal with & avoid the many problems faced by black people in a predominantly white nation.
    Also, these young people should be getting encouraged (which is not a euphemism for bullied) into education.
    Nationally-recognised qualifications will go a long way to give this particular young man a better idea of his place in the world & what he needs to do to become what HE wants to be as an adult. Whether he stays in his community or moves away, an education will always stand him in good stead for the future.

    1. Marion Wilson

      I don’t know how to fix this mess but but I’m certain that condemnation and prison is not the way to go. Our society is disadvantaged by its British, white male, heritage of “a good flogging cures all problems”.

  6. Anniejean

    Surely the major responsibility ility lies with successive conservative governments who rediculous “baby bonuses” these were scrapped by Juiia Guillard.there is always a demographic in any epidemic of youth crime and this one is pretty easy to find.

  7. Anniejean

    Surely the major responsibility ility lies with successive conservative governments who rediculous “baby bonuses” these were scrapped by Juiia Guillard.there is always a demographic in any epidemic of youth crime and this one is pretty easy to find.

  8. Anniejean

    Surely the major responsibility ility lies with successive conservative governments who rediculous “baby bonuses” these were scrapped by Juiia Guillard.there is always a demographic in any epidemic of youth crime and this one is pretty easy to find.

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